Breakdown of Spotify’s Thriving Online Community
For a few weeks we’re going to be taking a deeper dive into some of the more advanced aspects of running an online community.
If you’re looking to up your game, move up to a strategist level, or get an insight into what top community pros work on; this should help.
Last year, we analyzed a few of the top communities around (Apple, Autodesk, StackOverflow, and Airbnb). We’re going to add to this collection today by taking you on a deep dive of the Spotify Online Community.
Let’s begin by looking at the basics from available information (note this data is accurate up to May 2019).
However, it’s worth noting community growth (0.4% per year) lags far behind customer growth (2% to 4% per year). Most members join and don’t ask a question.
This is clearly a mature community (based upon the community lifecycle).
* Note: per day numbers are collected by comparing figures listed on the website today vs. several months ago (via Archive.org) and averaging the results. This will not account for any posts which have been removed.
The Spotify community has a relatively simple structure with five key elements. These are:
To support this, the community is using the following features provided by Lithium:
The lack of groups is interesting. This could be because either groups is a relatively new feature from Lithium or because it’s outside of the community strategy.
Either way, it’s likely the addition of groups would support the ‘Music Chat’ where members could form groups and exchange playlists around topics of interest.
Layout and Navigation
The community design has two clear calls to action for visitors. These are to sign up for a premium account, and search for an answer to a question. Both drive an immediate return on investment (new accounts/call deflection). However, the size of this banner means it’s likely most members won’t see the four key areas of the community below.
We would recommend reducing the size and ensuring people can get an immediate insight into what the community is about.
Navigation is hidden in a hamburger menu at the side of the page. This probably works great for mobile, but it might be easier if they used a standard tabbed navigation bar. Especially given how difficult it is to find the knowledge base.
We would also recommend renaming ‘Spotify Answers’ as it’s not clear that this refers to the knowledge base compared with ‘Help’.
Overall, the navigation is relatively simple and uncluttered with a few areas of improvement.
The community design gets almost everything right. It matches Spotify’s brand well, there is a clear contrast between different areas of the site. The site avoids stock images and is generally uncluttered. However, two downsides stand out. The first is the call to action asking people to sign up for premium at the top of the page. This looks too much like a cheap banner advert. The second is the level of static content.
In most support communities, the majority of questions come from relatively new customers. It usually makes sense to provide an obvious place for newcomers to get started. Spotify hasn’t yet done this on the homepage. Given the community uses single-sign-on, it might be useful to provide an obvious place for newcomers to get answers to their questions.
Spotify has taken a unique design decision to only show contributions from staff members and top members (Rock Stars) on the homepage. This means the community only shows posts which have been answered.
Given how unlikely it is an average newcomer is searching for that solution, it might be better to show either the latest unanswered posts (which regulars/top members can then answer) or trending/top posts (which helps most users get the answer to their questions).
Another downside is staff/Rock Stars are likely to respond to multiple posts at once. This means almost all the posts shown on the community homepage could come from the same person.
We would also like to see trending topics/discussions shown beneath the search bar at the top of the page to drive more traffic to those areas.
The community seems designed primarily for mobile and functions well with boxes dropping down to a single column. However, it would be wise to remove some of the static text to make it easier for members to find what they’re looking for.
The two major calls to action (create a premium account and search) are clear. Perhaps the only downside is the ability to ask questions directly from the homepage – which is what most members are likely to want to do. The community also lacks any dynamic CTAs which vary by a member’s stage in the community. Newcomers are shown the same CTAs as veterans.
Using our benchmarks, the community design hovers somewhere between ok to good overall.
We can break onboarding down into three areas; pre-registration, registration, and post-registration.
Despite the community’s size, it’s curiously absent from the Spotify homepage.
It doesn’t even appear under the ‘Communities’ option at the bottom of the page(!). Both the ‘help’ tabs direct members to the support center. To find the community members have to click on ‘help’ and then scroll down below the fold to find the community. Even after they click on this, they’re not taken to the main community homepage but to the lesser-used knowledge base (which is unlikely to provide better answers than those available in the support center).
What this implies is the community isn’t used as the primary customer support channel, but as the ‘catch-all’ for when members couldn’t get the answer from anywhere else. It also means that while the community has general music chat, it’s not utilized anywhere near as much as it could be.
This feels like a major missed opportunity. It also suggests almost all traffic comes via search.
Here the Spotify community competes with its own support center (more on that later) to display results. However, when results do appear, they are often displayed as featured snippets (see below). This is a major benefit of using Lithium as the community platform.
When members do visit, it’s difficult to see where to register. Members have to click on the ‘log in’ section instead of a registration link. It might be better to show a registration call to action for visitors who haven’t logged in.
The Spotify community uses SSO (single sign-on). To join the Spotify community you need to have a Spotify account. You can sign-up via a Facebook account. The upside is this makes the registration process simple, the downside is it becomes far more difficult to create a unique user journey for newcomers (i.e. members who sign up via the community aren’t usually distinguished from those who sign up via any other method).
However, once someone does sign-up for an account, they are taken back to the community homepage. The process is relatively simple and the community can track when a member first visits the community.
Outside of badges shown here, there is no further communication or support for community members. There are no on-site tips or emailed information to guide members towards different aspects of the community. The music section of the community could be thriving, but it won’t be anywhere near as active as it could be if the only people who can find it are those who have problems with their Spotify account first. The poor navigation is significantly hampering the community’s success.
It’s hard to feel a sense of community with other members when you don’t know who the community team is, who other members are, and what the community is about.
Spotify’s community onboarding is ‘ok’, largely thanks to a simple registration experience. It should do a lot better at attracting new members and keeping them in the community after they register.
We’ve recently broken search into its own category.
Spotify’s community shows the problems with using the native search function of a community platform. Native search only pulls content from the community. The Spotify community search bar can pull content from Lithium’s forum and tribal knowledge base, but not from the support center.
This means the same search for an answer on the community and the support centre leads to two completely different results – typically with Lithium’s user-generated content given the poorer answers. In fact, Lithium’s default search results are worryingly bad in the few examples we tested.
I suspect this is because the search has less content to retrieve information from and has been customized to prioritize the results with the most ‘likes’ instead of the best relevancy.
This means emotionally charged topics which encourage a lot of people to like (as shown above) appear above what might be the best answer. This happened across multiple search requests we tested. It’s a major problem which needs to be solved (also note: showing topics which are 7 years old is not normally ideal).
The other downside of using a native search feature is you end up duplicating what’s in the knowledge base and help center which hurts your search results. The solution is to use Coveo, SearchUnify or another option which retrieves content from multiple databases and shows the best result. This means the support center could show results from the community and vice-versa. This would immediately improve the support experience for all customers (the Zuora community is a good example)
The Engagement Experience
The Spotify engagement experience is spread across three areas;
- Help/Support (Q&A).
- Music Chat (Forums).
- Ideas (Crowdsource Ideas).
Help/Support: 201k posts (approx 40 posts per day – 2019)
The support community is where Spotify’s community really thrives.
The Help Q&A has generally good taxonomy with limited overlap between categories. However, the categories are listed in an odd mixture of alphabetical and by popularity. We would recommend sticking with either (ideally with the most popular categories at the top).
A few things we can pick up instantly here:
- Most question titles are reasonably clear (although with a few which need improvement).
- The community has a near 100% response rate to questions from top members. Around 80% of responses seem to be from community Rock Stars with the remainder coming from rising stars, moderators, and a handful of other members.
- The accepted solution rate which seems to hover around 15% to 25%. This isn’t necessarily bad (most members who ask a question don’t take the time to mark an accepted solution).
- It’s clear which questions have an accepted solution and which have been answered by a moderator.
The average time to respond seems hard to determine, but a random sample of questions and responses suggests around 15 to 30 hours. This is too long for a community of Spotify’s size and a reasonable target for improvement should be to bring this down to a handful of hours. In a community with 40 new posts per day, it should be possible to reduce this to 3 to 5 hours.
If we dive deeper, the quality of responses is generally extremely good. Community Rock Stars (who provide the bulk of the answers) respond with friendliness, empathy, clarity, and often ask clarifying questions to get to the crux of the issue.
It’s also clear who is an employee and who isn’t by the signature within the posts. This is an excellent and clear way of helping members understand who a response is from (and potentially avoid any legal liability for the responses).
The only downside (and this is minor) is after viewing a dozen or so they all start to sound the same – often using the same words and mannerisms. This suggests they’re trained to use a template and this might feel impersonal over time. However, given how unlikely it is anyone is going to browse through many answers, it’s a minor issue. The tone of responses is generally at a world-class standard.
Music Chat: 40k posts (approx 42 posts per day – 2019)
The ‘Music Chat’ section has incredible potential which isn’t being fully utilized at the moment.
It’s interesting to note music chat appears to have just overtaken help as the most popular activity in the community (by posts per day). The section is broken down to include:
- Featured discussions.
- A full list of discussions (with pinned topics).
- The blog posted as a discussion.
- A featured playlist.
- ‘Content Questions’ Q&A.
- Playlist exchange – you can submit your playlist (albeit it’s not clear where these go).
This section is a mishmash of different ideas all under a single umbrella of generic Music Chat. It clearly has huge potential but also a clearer strategy. Playlists are likely to be huge, while content discussions might be a better fit for the help forums.
I’d suggest renaming it from ‘Music Chat’ – which feels like a placeholder, to something that closer represents the benefit of the area (finding and sharing your Favourite Music).
Next, it would be ideal to feature the most popular member-submitted playlists, followed by general music discussions and content questions. Given Spotify is also moving into podcasts and concert ticket sales, there is potential to build a huge music community around these topics. It’s a little surprising this hasn’t happened yet.
Ideas: 51k posts (14 new posts per day)
The ideas area is one of the most successful we’ve seen with both a large number of ideas submitted and a considerable number of new ideas per day – many of which get a good level of support.
The design of the ideas section isn’t great. The blog post takes up far too much space and lingers for the rest of the month even after members have read the post. In this case, the top March 2019 ideas post is still featured as of May 20. The display of the most popular ideas is great and should replace the blog section. The live ideas area should also appear higher up along with a breakdown of their current status.
This would also benefit from showing the latest implemented ideas (to encourage future ideas). The FitBit community generally does a great job of showing these benefits.
One interesting innovation is Community RockStars are enabled to change the status of ideas submitted within the community.
All ideas also receive a reply and the most popular ones often receive updates on status. There seems to be a reluctance, however, to reject highly popular ideas which can linger for 5 years after they’ve been posted.
The Spotify community is one of the only ones we’ve seen which delivers a world-class level of engagement. There are still areas for improvement, but it’s far better than most.
The Spotify community uses standard Lithium gamification with multiple levels based upon a combination of actions members have performed and badges reflect individual achievements. There doesn’t appear to be any integrations with other areas of Spotify (which is a shame).
Spotify offers dozens of different badges to recognise behaviors ranging from logging in twice in one day to posting 500 replies. As a rule, we’re not generally a fan of giving badges for minimal behaviors. Top badges are prioritised for member profiles, but not on the badges page.
Spotify has a handful of levels ranging from 0 to 21 (at least).
These levels aren’t based solely upon providing answers, but by a range of behaviors (i.e. you can’t just post relentlessly, you have to provide [x] number of accepted solutions and receive [x] amount of kudos etc..).
Spotify’s gamification is largely reflective of Lithium’s gamification offerings and advice. You could easily argue this is a great implementation of Lithium. However, compared to what else is out there, I would disagree.
The Spotify Rock Star Program
The Spotify Rock Star program is widely regarded as one of the best MVP/Superuser programs around. The Rock Star program has 132 members from 20 countries who have provided around 60% of all accepted solutions in the community.
Participants of the Rock Star program don’t just answer questions in the community, they also have access to a shared @AskRockStars Twitter account.
In this account they don’t just respond to questions mentioning the handle, they proactively respond to anyone mentioning a problem with Spotify. It’s rather impressive.
The level of access and permissions granted to RockStars is higher than we’ve seen in most other programs.
The process is also fairly well documented with the top rockstars listed by participation over a fixed time period (instead of since the beginning of the program).
The Rock Star Program also has an interesting reward system based upon the number of points members have accumulated. However, it’s not clear how points are determined (Lithium doesn’t have a default point scheme). Rewards range from a beach ball (15 points) to Marshall Monitor Bluetooth headphones – $250 (2,800 points).
This works out to each point being worth around $0.09 making each accepted solution probably worth somewhere in the region of $0.45 (this could be wildly wrong without knowing what point multiplier Spotify uses). Points are likely an accumulation of kudos, accepted solutions, and total posts.
The top 10 Rock Stars each year receive an all expenses paid trip to attend the Rock Star Jam in Stockholm, Sweden.
By almost all metrics, the Rock Star program is world class.
OVERALL RATING: B
The Spotify Community is a mature community with some remarkable strengths.
These are its broadly enthusiastic community, a fairly high level of activity, an outstanding MVP program (which answers almost every question), a thriving ideas section, and a rapidly growing music-chat community.
However, it also faces several key challenges. Our recommendations would be:
1) Address the limited visibility within Spotify, it’s a major concern. It’s almost impossible to find from the main website today.
2) The lack of a unified search feature is also another clear drawback. The community and support section shouldn’t be in competition with one another.
3) Improve the on-boarding of new members (which is non-existent today).
4) Redesign the homepage to show trending questions/unanswered questions.
5) Redesign the music-chat area.
In short, Spotify has a really great community which could also be even better.